Save the world with your knife and fork!
"Livestock's contribution to environmental problems is on a massive scale... It needs to be addressed with urgency" UN FAO

The 52 billion animals slaughtered every year provide great sales figures for the meat and dairy industries but are destroying the planet. For those brought up to believe that meat and dairy are fine and dandy - even essential - it's hard to get your head around the enormity of the damage livestock are doing.

In 2006, the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organisation (UN FAO) quantified it in a breath-taking report called Livestock's Long Shadow. They didn't pull their punches: "The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems."

It then set out the detail, backed by more than 600 scientific references. As far as global warming is concerned, livestock are the second biggest cause, producing 18 per cent of all greenhouse gases. Compare this with the 13.5 per cent from the world's different forms of transport - trains, boats, planes and cars.

A vegan driving a walloping great fourtrak is less damaging than a meat eater riding a bike! Forests across the world are still being felled at a terrifying rate. One estimate puts it at an area equal to 50 football pitches a minute. Seventy per cent of cleared Amazon rainforest land is now used for grazing cattle; most of the remaining 30 per cent is used to grow soya as fodder. Europe imports a staggering 18 million tons of the stuff every year so it follows that every chicken nugget, burger, bacon rasher or turkey twizzler that's scoffed plays a part in forest destruction.

Rainforest soil is shallow and thin and animal agriculture quickly turns it to dust. Livestock farmers simply move on and more trees are felled. The richest habitat on earth made lifeless for profit! Crocodile tears won't stop the disappearance of plants and animals so biodiversity continues to be lost at a staggering rate. If you care, don't eat meat or dairy because forests are where most wildlife live and livestock are the prime reason why the trees are being felled.

The story doesn't end there, sadly. Deserts everywhere are spreading. Overgrazing by cattle, sheep and goats gets rid of the vegetation while their hard hooves and heavy bodies destroy the soil's structure - and bingo, more desert. As the soil dries, weather patterns change and the rain simply stops - permanently. Arid and semi-arid lands circle the globe and make up about one third of its land surface. A similar process is degrading the soil over 72 per cent of this land mass, accelerating further desertification.

We live in an age obsessed with efficiency but not where animal agriculture is concerned. Livestock demand 70 per cent of the world's agricultural land simply because they are so incredibly inefficient. It takes 17 kg of good-quality vegetable protein to produce just 1 kg of beef protein and to alesser degree it is the same with all other farmed animals. Deforestation and desertification are bad enough in their own right but forests and soil constitute a massive carbon sink that absorbs CO2 and holds it captive. That sink is being destroyed and so the Earth is becoming steadily less able to soak up carbon. This makes livestock's contribution much greater than its 18 per cent headline figure.

Does it matter? You bet it does! The phenomenon that's increasingly concerning climate scientists is 'positive feedback'. The more the planet warms, the more methane that's released from defrosting tundras and even the seabed of the Arctic ocean - potentially billions of tons of it. Its release causes more warming which triggers more releases and so on and so on. The other developing environmental tragedies we can blame on livestock producers are, according to the UN, water and air pollution, the massive overuse of fresh water, antibioticresistant superbugs and pesticide pollution. And before anyone turns to the oceans as a solution, the situation here is equally as dire. Almost all the creatures of the deep have been polluted with traces of deadly poisons such as mercury, PCBs and dioxin, making them anything but a healthy alternative. Despite this, the devastation of overfishing continues.

In 2003 the UN FAO reported that 75 per cent of world fisheries were exploited to the full or over exploited. A year later, the organisation set up to share out the spoils of oceanic plunder (International Council for the Exploration of the Seas - ICES) was even more concerned, saying that only 18 per cent of fish stocks were within 'safe biological limits'. In other words, 82 per cent of all fish stocks are on the road to extinction. Factory farming of fish is increasingly touted as the solution. It isn't - it is part of the problem!

Farmed fish are mostly fed wild-caught fish - 4 kg for every kg of weight they put on. Oceans across the world are being scoured for small 'industrial' fish which are essentially being wiped out. They may be 'industrial' fish to the industry's money men but to the oceans they are an essential link in the food chain. Without them, the large fish which we have already devastated stand no chance of recovering their numbers. Canada offers a cautionary tale. In the 1960s it was catching 800,000 tons of cod off the Grand Banks - in 1980 the stocks collapsed and disappeared and have not since recovered. The science is now overwhelming. You cannot be an environmentalist and eat meat, dairy and fish. If you're not an environmentalist, you should be because no one knows what the eventual outcome of these multi rapes will be but it will not be to the benefit of humankind.

Tony Wardle
For more information and to access the fully-referenced scientific report Diet of Disaster, visit


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